Politics & Policy

That Time I Went to Iowa to Cover the Caucuses — and Ended Up Campaigning for Jim Gilmore

Jim Gilmore (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Des Moines, Iowa — I never expected to campaign for Jim Gilmore.

If I ever even think of the former Virginia governor, it is only when I am in the process of making fun of him and his presidential campaign — if you want to call it that — on Twitter. In his mind he may be a candidate for the highest office in the land. To reporters, fairly or unfairly, he is a Twitter punch line.

But on Friday night before the Iowa caucuses, I attended a National Review party for reporters and campaign apparatchiks, where I encountered a compelling idea.

“You know, you don’t have to be from Iowa to speak on behalf of a candidate at the caucus,” Guardian political reporter Ben Jacobs informed me when we were both a few beers deep. “You should speak on behalf of Jim Gilmore.”

The idea was too delicious to cast aside.

The next day, after doing some research, I quickly determined that Ben was right and that I wouldn’t be committing some type of election violation that would get me sent to an Iowan penitentiary if I acted on his idea. So, on Monday night, to the Waukee Middle School caucus I went, intent on making the case for the quixotic campaign of James Stuart Gilmore III.

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Here’s how the Republican caucuses works in Iowa. At a particular caucus site, voters gather in the evening to hear speakers for each campaign make their case. After each campaign representative gives their two-minute pitch, voters cast their ballot.

It soon became clear that the Waukee Middle School caucus wasn’t any ordinary caucus. Marco Rubio’s campaign sent Colorado senator Cory Gardner to speak on its behalf, and Rand Paul’s campaign sent its campaign manager, Chip Englander. The crowd of caucus-goers was enormous, perhaps 500 people or so.

When I went up to the precinct chair to inform him I intended to speak in behalf of the venerable governor’s candidacy, he looked a bit baffled. Gilmore didn’t even appear on the ballot. This makes sense because Gilmore made absolutely no effort to campaign in the Hawkeye State.

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But sure enough, the precinct chair wrote my name down. Speakers would go in alphabetical order by the candidate’s last name.

When my turn came around, I gave my best pitch, with a little dash of humor. I explained that Gilmore was the only person with military experience in the race and one of the few with executive experience. And, sure, Gilmore might be long shot, but remember that old adage: Slow and steady wins the race.

“And no one has started slower than Jim Gilmore,” I declared, to laughs.

If only a few courageous voters cast their lot with Gilmore today, I concluded, they could be the spark that lights the Jim Gilmore flame, which, with the right media oxygen, could ignite a Jim Gilmore wildfire across this land.

#share#Of course, this was all for fun, a story I could tell election after election to my friends and family about the time I showed up at an Iowa caucus and gave a dramatic speech in favor of some no-shot candidate. But it was also educational. It helped demonstrate to me how totally and completely worthless the caucus process is, at least as it is carried out on the Republican side in Iowa.

Of the speeches given in behalf of candidates Monday night, almost all were terrible. One nice old gentleman speaking in favor of John Kasich’s candidacy didn’t seem to know quite where he was.

It’s hard to imagine that even the good speeches persuade anyone to change their vote.

It’s hard to imagine that even the good speeches persuade anyone to change their vote. If you have taken the effort of going to a caucus, you probably took a moment or two to research the candidates. You aren’t going to be persuaded by some awful two-minute litany of awkwardly delivered talking points.

In short, it’s a total waste of time. The idea is nice. It’s sounds great that a community would gather together to determine who their elective representative should be. But, in reality, the caucus system just forces voters to shuffle around in some middle-school gymnasium for an hour before they get to vote.

The caucuses also basically disenfranchise a good chunk of the population. After the Waukee Middle School caucus ended, I went to Subway to grab some sustenance before covering Ted Cruz’s victory party. The sandwich artists at Subway seemed like nice people, but they probably couldn’t have gotten the time off to join a caucus even if they had wanted to attend. If you have to work nights to support your family, you can’t participate in the presidential primary process in Iowa.

#related#What’s wrong with the run-of-mill voting process that most states employ? Other than the fact that, you know, Iowans won’t get to feel morally superior about their unnecessarily complicated system.

Back to my speech for Gilmore. After I delivered my impassioned plea, I got some good feedback. A member of Marco Rubio’s campaign even told me I should contact them if it didn’t work out for the governor. (As an opinion journalist who prizes objectivity above activism, I have no intention of flacking for any campaign that actually has a chance to succeed.)

But despite the positive feedback, my efforts were all for naught. Jim Gilmore won twelve votes on caucus night, but none of them came from the Waukee Middle School caucus.

— Jamie Weinstein is senior editor of The Daily Caller.

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